When someone decides to drive after drinking too much, that person puts every other person sharing the street at risk for a collision and for devastating injuries. If a drunk driver crashes into you – and you live through it – you could sustain broken bones, severe burns, spinal cord damage, or a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Seek medical attention immediately if you are involved in a crash with a drunk driver, and then discuss your legal rights and options right away with a good personal injury lawyer, and in the Chicago area, with an experienced Chicago personal injury attorney. The law in Illinois allows the injured victims of drunk drivers to seek full reimbursement for medical bills, lost income, and all other injury-related expenses, but you will need a good attorney’s help.

You do not have to drink very much to reach the “legal limit.” For almost everyone, one or two drinks will take you there, and some people need even less. In all fifty states, the limit for driving is a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08 percent. If your BAC level is measured at 0.08 percent or higher, you can be arrested and charged with driving under the influence – DUI. Some states call the offense driving while intoxicated or DWI, but it’s the same crime. The point is that just one drink is enough to impair your driving skills and slow your reaction time.

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WHAT ARE THE STATISTICS?

The National Commission Against Drunk Driving reports that more than 250,000 of us are injured annually by impaired drivers in the United States, and about 10,000 people are killed each year in alcohol-related vehicle crashes. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the total cost to all of us in the U.S. for the damage caused by drunk drivers exceeds $50 billion every year. In state criminal courts across the nation, the criminal justice system relentlessly hands out penalties to convicted drunk drivers – probation, jail and prison time, fines, license suspensions and revocations, community service, and more. However, if you or someone you love has been severely injured by an impaired driver, you can also take that driver to court and sue that person for civil damages. It’s another good reason to avoid driving under the influence – you’ll be punished first by the criminal court system, and you could later face even more penalties in a second, civil court procedure.

If you or someone you love is injured by a drunk driver, and if – after consulting with an attorney – you choose to file a personal injury claim, you will be required to prove that you have been injured, that you were injured by a specific individual – the defendant – in a specific traffic crash, and that the defendant was driving negligently at the time of the collision. Yes, it helps if the defendant failed a breathalyzer exam or received a DUI or DWI conviction, but all you are required to prove in a personal injury claim is that the other driver was negligent. What’s most important is putting your attorney to work at once. Witnesses need to be questioned and evidence in the case needs to be compiled and examined promptly. A good personal injury attorney will fight aggressively and relentlessly for your rights and your compensation, but the sooner you get started and contact that attorney, the better.

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IN WHAT WAYS DO VICTIMS SUFFER?

Still, if an impaired driver has inflicted a long-term or disabling injury, in some cases it won’t matter how much cash you win in a verdict or a settlement. The reality is that the injured victims of drunk drivers often suffer in ways that no sum of money can alleviate. Jada Benge, for example, was a 33-year-old mother of three when she was killed in 2004 by a drunk driver. Her three daughters and her husband were also severely injured when that driver slammed into their vehicle and tragically changed their lives forever. “The pain is still there,” Michael Benge said to KBAK and KBFX News. “My girls were 8, 9 and 12 at the time when they watched their mother die.”

Last year, Rebekah Bowers Sanders and her husband were the victims of a drunk driver near Paris, Texas. Both sustained multiple serious injuries, broken bones, sprains, fractures, bruises, and more. Ms. Sanders suffered a broken eye socket and the loss of vision in that eye. She recently explained to KLFY News, “I have yet to regain the vision in my right eye, and it is extremely unlikely that I will ever see out of it again. I will never get to look over my shoulder at my children playing in the backseat of the car.”

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WHAT DOES SCIENCE SAY?

Scientists are now actually confirming the widely-held suspicion that the injuries suffered by intoxicated drivers are frequently less serious than the injuries those drivers impose on others. A research team at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) has found that a higher blood alcohol content level appears to enhance an injury victim’s chance of surviving a serious collision. And the drunker a person is, the more likely he or she is to avoid being seriously injured. Lee Friedman, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at UIC, headed up the research team and wrote the report. He adds that, “After an injury, if you are intoxicated there seems to be a pretty substantial protective effect.”

In some cases, the injuries that a drunk driver inflicts on innocent victims can be permanently disabling. A traumatic brain injury can be the result of any blow or jolt to the head. Spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries happen far too often in alcohol-related vehicle collisions. Whiplash can happen when the rear end of a vehicle receives a sudden, severe impact. Bone, muscle, and tissue damage can keep you from performing your job and even impair your ability to accomplish basic everyday tasks like cooking, dressing, and bathing.

Some physical injuries heal with time, but the emotional injuries a drunk driver visits on others can be lifelong. The most egregiously injured victims confront serious psychological challenges after sustaining permanent and disabling injuries. The future can look genuinely bleak, and some survivors are overcome by feelings of isolation, alienation, depression, and fear. Obviously, no one who is active and healthy is going to adjust easily to being suddenly and permanently disabled. Almost every injured accident survivor will encounter some kind of psychological hardship. Jobs may be lost. Marriages may suffer. And in spite of the legal penalties that are handed out to convicted drunk drivers almost every day by the courts, it really does seem as if the innocent victims of drunk drivers are the ones who take more punishment for the crime.

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WHEN AN ACCIDENT HAPPENS, WHAT MUST YOU DO?

Try to keep calm and stay rational if you are involved in a vehicle crash with a drunk driver. You must try to do several very important things virtually at once, so it really is essential to think clearly. Obtaining medical help for yourself and others is the top priority. Even if you don’t think you’ve been injured, it is essential to see a doctor as soon as possible to protect yourself. Adrenaline in your system can mask pain, and some injuries are not immediately apparent or detectable. A mild soreness or ache could emerge as a serious medical problem days or weeks later. Seeing a doctor will provide peace of mind if you’re healthy, and it can begin to establish the medical record you’ll need if you’ve been injured and you later file a personal injury claim.

When you’re in a traffic crash, call the police. You will need to obtain a copy of the police accident report, and you may need their eyewitness testimony if you file a compensation claim. If other witnesses saw the collision, try to obtain their names and their contact information. You must get the other driver’s name, contact, and complete insurance information, and if that driver cannot help you – because of intoxication or injury – ask the police for help getting the details you need.

Take as many photographs as you can as quickly as you can, or have someone take pictures for you. You really cannot have enough photos of the accident, the damage to the vehicles, and your own injuries. Photographs can confirm your testimony and sometimes make all the difference in a personal injury case. Keep copies of everything – medical bills, receipts, test results, and anything else that might be relevant. Keep all of your medical appointments and get the healthcare and medical treatment you need.

Candidly speaking, cash simply cannot compensate for much of the damage that drunk drivers leave in their path. However, a good personal injury attorney will use every available legal tool to help you win the compensation that lets you move ahead with your life after a catastrophic injury. If you or anyone you love is injured – now or in the future – by a drunk driver anywhere in or near the greater Chicago area, do not wait to take action and seek justice. Arrange immediately to consult with an experienced Chicago personal injury attorney.

By: Stephen Phillips

Stephen D. Phillips is the managing partner at the Phillips Law Offices in Chicago. He earned his Juris Doctor from Loyola University in 1985 and his B.A. from the University of Iowa in 1981. He is an extensively published writer and sought-after lecturer on legal topics ranging from medical malpractice to tort reform. Mr. Phillips is also the recipient of a number of awards and honors from various legal and community groups.